Dean Of The Year: Scott Beardsley Of UVA’s Darden School Of Business

For a long list of extraordinary achievements during his six years in the job. UVA Darden Dean Scott Beardsley is the Dean of the Year for 2020

Back pain could have cost him the job.

During the final stretch of a long and drawn-out search to find a new dean for the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, Scott Beardsley had to make his way to Charlottesville yet again from his home in Belgium for still more interviews. But on this day, after nearly weekly trips across the Atlantic from his home in Belgium, the tall and lanky senior partner of McKinsey & Co. was feeling out of sorts.

Beardsley had severely aggravated his lower back. As he stood before the school’s faculty for a final round lookover, spasms of pain shot through his back. He managed to stay on his feet throughout his presentation but when he took questions from the professors Beardsley sat on a corner of a table to ease the pain. He would later learn that a lot of the people who were assessing his fitness for the job wondered whether he had the stamina for its grueling demands.


“What did it say about my readiness for a demanding job that I didn’t seem to have the stamina to stand up for an hour?” he mused. “The faux pas was all the worse because at Darden, more than most schools, we pride ourselves on high-energy classroom experiences. Faculty never sit down, choosing to roam the room working the case method interactive discussion. At the root of the concern was whether a nontraditional candidate like me fully understood the legendary Darden classroom culture and could have a commanding presence.”

As fate would have it, Beardsley passed the test. Six years into his deanship of Darden, there is no doubt about his stamina, his command, or his extraordinary achievements in the job. The only “nontraditional” dean of a top 20 business school who is not an academic, Beardsley has expertly led Darden through two major crises: a widely publicized white supremacist march in Charlottesville that caused applications to tank and this year’s horrific pandemic that has caused the biggest disruption to life in this generation. He has led admission innovations that challenged the dominance of standardized testing and opened the doors to more diverse candidates than ever before.

Yet those accomplishments hardly tell the story of how this former strategy consultant who had no previous connection to the University of Virginia or its business school has made an enduring mark on the institution he has led. Beardsley launched the most ambitious fundraising campaign in the school’s history, a $400 million initiative, that has already brought in the single largest gift, $68 million from Frank Sands Sr. who graduated with his MBA from Darden in 1963. The campaign has funded the creation of 23 new faculty chairs, though an important focus of his fundraising efforts have been student scholarships and financial aid. Beardsley, who wants to make Darden’s MBA experience the most affordable of any elite business school, has raised money for 82 new scholarships.


He has expanded the school’s presence in Washington, D.C., metro area in a new 40,000 square-foot space in with classrooms, meeting facilities, office and academic space. Today, more than 400 students now study at Darden in the D.C. area. And he is about to transform Darden’s grounds as well with a new inn and conference center for executive education students, the first major building project at the school in the last 20 years. Early in 2021, Beardsley will break ground on what will be a 199-room hotel, state of the art lifelong learning facilities, and an arboretum and botanical gardens.

Yet, his commitment to maintain and further the school’s obsession with teaching excellence along with Darden’s reputation for providing the best MBA education experience in the U.S., an accolade awarded Darden for nine consecutive years by The Economist, may very well be his most important contribution as a leader.

Thank goodness the faculty didn’t judge him harshly for leaning on a table when his back was, in his own words, “killing me.” For his stellar leadership through one of the most turbulent periods in higher education, for the compassion he has shown to anxiety-ridden applicants and students, for his vision to strengthen and expand Darden’s standing among the best business schools in the world, Poets&Quants has named Scott Beardsley the Dean of the Year.


Beardsley is the tenth dean to earn this honor, earned in the past by the leaders of Harvard Business School, the Yale School of Management, Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business, the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business, Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, and IE Business School in Spain. Darden is also the only school to have gained the distinction of having two of its deans gain the honor. Robert Bruner, who led Darden from 2005 to 2015, was Poets&Quants‘ first Dean of the Year in 2011.

Unlike all the others before him, however, he is the only dean who did not follow the well-traveled scholarly, tenure-track path toward academic administrative roles that lead to a deanship. Instead, Beardsley reinvented himself after more than a quarter-century with McKinsey & Co., the firm he joined in New York as an associate in 1989 with his newly minted MBA from MIT Sloan. Those 72-hour workweeks would fuel the strategy consultant’s rise to principal in 1996, senior partner in 2000, leader of its strategy practice in 2004, head of leadership development efforts in 2010, and election to the firm’s prestigious Shareholders’ Council.

Darden Dean Scott Beardsley joins a stellar roster of Dean of the Year honorees who include IE Business School’s Santiago Iñiguez (top left), Indiana University Kelley School of Business’ Idie Kesner, Yale’s ‘Ted’ Snyder, Kellogg’s Sally Blount, Harvard’s Nitin Nohria, Foster School of Business’ Jim Jiambalvo, Dartmouth Tuck’s Paul Danos, Toronto Rotman’s Roger Martin, and Beardsley’s predecessor at Darden, Robert Bruner.

Dean Year School University
Idie Kesner 2019 Kelley School of Business Indiana University
Jim Jiambalvo 2018 Foster School of Business University of Washington
Sally Blount 2017 Kellogg School of Management Northwestern University
Santiago Iñiguez 2016 IE Business School IE University/td>
Edward ‘Ted’ Snyder 2015 Yale School of Management Yale University
Paul Danos 2014 Tuck School of Business Dartmouth College
Roger Martin 2013 Rotman School of Management University of Toronto
Nitin Nohria 2012 Harvard Business School Harvard University
Robert Bruner 2011 Darden School of Business University of Virginia

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